Breaking with ‘the Break’
Several years ago, Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan called for a specific and authoritative intervention by the Magisterium. An new Syllabus, he suggested, should identify and protect persons from errors spread within the Church. Of concern to Schneider was (is) the error of those who maintain a hermeneutic of discontinuity or of rupture between the Second Vatican Council and what came previous. Some “while professing to be Catholics, at the same time support laws contrary to [the natural law and to the Divine law] and openly contradict the Magisterium of the Church.” Schneider perhaps perceives such persons as offering the Second Vatican Council as a contemporary precedent for the Church embracing what she previously did not, and as therefore grounding the willingness of an individual to maintain positions which, at present, contradict those of the Church.
Persons on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, Schneider notes, also can present the Council as having radically broken from what came prior. While advocating for such a break may indeed be erroneous, even persons at the Council used rhetoric sympathetic to discontinuity and rupture: For example, at one point during the Council, Carlos Saboia Bandeira de Mello, Bishop of Palmas, identified the contradiction between the anathemas of previous eras and the regrettable lack of them at the Council.
Reform or renewal are sometimes offered as lens’ through which the Council is read. Reading the Council as bringing new insights and as responding to inadequacies, but doing so within a broader framework of continuity, has the advantage, I think, of describing what the Council did. In emphasizing, for example, the priesthood of all believers, the Council reoriented the Church to something it had once better articulated. John O’Malley notes that the “idea that the laity shared in Christ’s priestly mission raised questions, objections and calls for clarity,” and to some, it seemed like a concession to Protestantism (What Happened at Vatican II 2008, 186).” The priesthood of all believers has a New Testament basis in I Peter and this itself represents continuity with the presentation made in the Hebrew Bible. That a Catholic might view the priesthood of all believers as a concession to Protestantism evidences a rupture indeed, but one that happened not during Second Vatican Council but sometime prior. The Second Vatican Council breaks with the break manifested in the foreignness of the priesthood of all believers.
Ormond Rush states that whatever innovations or discontinuities occurred at the Second Vatican Council, the Council “never intended a macro-rupture, never intended to sever itself from the great tradition; innovations and discontinuities (micro-ruptures) were seen to be ways of rejuvenating that broader tradition (Still Interpreting Vatican II: Some Hermeneutic Principles 2004, 7).” Using the example of ecumenism, Walter Kasper states that “the ecumenical openness of the Second Vatican Council is not a break with the tradition in the theological sense of the word; but it is certainly an intentional modification of individual traditions, which are for the most part relatively recent. It is indisputable that the Council consciously went beyond the defensive and prohibitive assertions of Pope Pius XI in Mortalium animos (1928) and, in this sense, made a qualitative leap. Understood in this way, tradition and innovation are not in opposition (That They All May Be One: The Call To Unity Today 2004, 11).”
The individual traditions which the Second Vatican Council intentionally modified are not Tradition. Challenge can exist in distinguishing between the two, but perhaps as a consequence of the Church being led by the Holy Spirit, opportunity will exist to again rise to that challenge.
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